Why I’m Going to Alabama

It’s been a joyful summer for me so far – I got married at the end of June and just came back from my honeymoon!  But on the Jewish calendar, that joy was tinged by the bitterness of Tisha B’Av this weekend, and now, as we move toward the High Holy Days, by a shift toward introspection.

This Tisha B’Av, the bitterness most present in my mind was the pain of some of the events of this summer.  Alongside too many tragic shootings and difficult news stories, I’ve been thinking about the shooting inside the Charleston church and the arrest and death of Sandra Bland. Together with other events of the past year, they remind me that 50 years after Selma, we continue to live in a society where we need a campaign reminding us that black lives matter, even as the Torah taught us so many generations ago that every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).

That’s why, when the NAACP announced America’s Journey for Justice, a 40-day march from Selma, Alabama to Washington DC setting out on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and when our Reform Jewish Movement pledged to support the March, I knew I wanted to be part of it. After all, when Martin Luther King marched in Selma 50 years ago,  rabbis like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath were right alongside him.  The Voting Rights Act was drafted in the conference room of our own Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where I worked after college, and where I travel with our Confirmation Students every year.

I’m proud to that I will be one of over 100 rabbis participating in the march, and one of three rabbis carrying a Torah along the route of the march near Montgomery, Alabama on Tuesday, August 4th.  If you have the flexibility to consider a last-minute trip to Alabama, I would love for you to come with me. I’m sure it will be an inspiring and eye-opening experience.  The Reform Movement has put together these FAQs about participating in the march, and you can sign up through the NAACP’s website here.  Even if you end up traveling on different dates, please let me know if you decide to make the trip, and I will help connect you to other Reform Jews who will be there.  And even if you can’t travel, you can follow my journey on this blog while I’m away.

Closer to home, I’ll also be grappling with these issues of racial injustice by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new bestseller, Between the World and Me – and I want to invite you to join me.  I expect that some of the book will be uncomfortable reading, and I expect that many in my congregation and beyond will disagree with parts of it.  But Judaism has always demanded that we listen to other points of view, even when we disagree, and preparing our hearts for the High Holy Days has always demanded opening ourselves to some discomfort.   So (with thanks to Rabbi Paul Kipnes for the inspiration), I’m looking for a minyan of openness – a group of ten or more people who will read the book with me, and join me in exploring the significance of the text for us as Jews and as Americans.  If you would be interested in reading the book and joining me for a group discussion either in person or online, please contact my assistant Dena at dmarchiony@bdavid.org.  I look forward to reading with you and to sharing my experiences in Alabama.

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